Michael Conlan has his eyes on bigger and better things – but the immediate focus is what’s ahead this weekend.

The 27-year-old Belfast man has a flawless ledger since turning professional under Bob Arum and Top Rank.

Conlan (9-0, 6 KO’s) faces Jason Cunningham for the vacant WBO Inter-Continental featherweight title, exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office, as part of the supporting cast to Josh Warrington’s IBF featherweight title defence against ex-two-weight ruler Carl Frampton.

“I’ve got to get Saturday night out of the way before I can think about anything else, which I do believe I will, but 2019 is looking like a big year,” Conlan told Boxing Social.

“I’m looking at four or maybe even five [fights] next year and I would hope that I would be in a good position, maybe in a world title eliminator or even challenging for a world title, this time next year. That’s where I would like to be, that’s where I would hope to be, but it all depends on how I perform over the next 12 months.”

Conlan will fight at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York on St Patrick’s weekend (March 16) and hopes for another Northern Ireland homecoming, potentially at Falls Park in front of 15,000 people, towards the end of the summer.

A fight with Vladimir Nikitin, the man who controversially got the nod against Conlan at the Rio 2016 quarter-final and is now promoted alongside his amateur nemesis by the aforementioned Arum and Top Rank, could well top that bill.

“That fight looks like happening in Belfast next year,” Conlan added. “When that happens it will be special.

“I can’t look past Jason Cunningham, though. He’s a tough character, he’ll dig deep, he’s a two-time Commonwealth champion and will be coming to win and put himself back on the scene.”

Conlan turned professional just over 12 months before his brother, Jamie, was beaten in a world title fight against Jerwin Ancajas of the Philippines for the IBF super-flyweight crown.

But the featherweight insists he feels no pressure to be the one to win a global honour for the Conlan family as he comes up against a man in Cunningham who started off at flyweight and has lost to both Reece Bellotti and Jordan Gill in recent times.

“[Jamie’s] path was always going to be different to my path. We had different amateur careers and did different things, so there was never really any pressure on me to perform.

“I’ve always just gone out there and done the job, but I’ve not set myself a goal of just becoming a world champion. I want to be a three-weight world champion and that is something that I believe is well within my grasp and something I believe I’m well capable of doing and it’s all about progressing at the right pace and getting the right fights at the right times.”

The card will feature Mark Heffron’s tasty vacant British middleweight title clash against Liam Williams and Martin Murray’s WBC Silver middleweight title defence against Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam.

Lyndon Arthur and Nathan Gorman fight alongside Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Sam Maxwell.

The return of former WBC flyweight world title challenger Paddy Barnes is also on the bill, while Jack Massey will fight in a tick-over showing before he vies for the vacant WBO European cruiserweight title against a foe to be confirmed at the Morningside Arena in Leicester in February.

And Tyson Fury’s debutant brother Tommy Fury boxes alongside Troy Williamson, Harvey Horn and Billy Joe Saunders returns in the hope of ending what has been something of a nightmare year.
Josh Warrington defends his IBF world featherweight title against Carl Frampton exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office, Saturday 22 December. Watch for just £19.95, for more info visit www.bt.com/sportboxoffice

Article by: Elliot Foster